Braves’ Freeman explains how he went from slump to sizzling

 

 PHILADELPHIA – When I asked Freddie Freeman in early June which Brave or Braves might make the All-Star team, I have to admit it was in a tone of, “I mean, someone has to selected from every team.”

Freeman said something about how that wasn’t something he spent any time thinking about. But, he added, “You never know who might get hot for the next month.”

Whether he felt a surge of his own coming on, or just meant that someone might heat up in

Freddie Freeman struggled in April and May, but the Braves' best hitter has been on a torrid past since early June. (AP photo)

Freddie Freeman struggled in April and May, but the Braves’ best hitter has been on a torrid past since early June. (AP photo)

June and work himself into the All-Star conversation, I’m not sure. I tend to think the former – that he had an inkling he was close, that things were able to start clicking for the Braves’ best hitter and two-time former All-Star.

If so, then Freeman was certainly dead-on in his assessment.

After hitting just .251 with a .338 OBP and .419 slugging percentage in 50 games during April and May, with 16 extra-base hits (eight homers) and 15 RBIs in that two-month span, Freeman has hit .355 with a .429 OBP and .669 slugging percentage in 32 games in June and July, with 22 extra-base hits (six homers) and 16 RBIs.

And in his past 26 games beginning June 7, Freeman has blazed at .396 (40-for-101) with 20 extra-base hits, a .457 OBP and .733 slugging percentage. The Braves are 12-14 in those games. Not great, but certainly a hell of a lot better than their 16-41 record through June 6.

I don’t know if Freeman will be named to the NL All-Star team when the squads are announced Tuesday night; I still think Teheran is the more likely choice to represent the Braves, and I’m assuming there won’t be two Braves named to the team.

But if Freeman is named, it won’t look like a choice made just because the Braves must have a representative. A legitimate case can now be made for his inclusion: Among NL first basemen, he’s fourth in OPS (.890), tied with the Giants’ Brandon Belt for fourth in WAR (2.5) and, for those who still put emphasis on batting average, Freeman’s .292 is second to Belt’s .295.

As we’ve said before, as Freeman goes, so go the Braves. Their offense, at least. And he’s played strong defense all season.

“Hopefully he can keep it going for the next three months,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said Friday, after Freeman completed a June in which he hit .346 in June with 18 extra base hits (four triples, five homers). He’s our big guy in the middle of our lineup and when he gets it going he kind of relaxes and allows everybody else to, also….

“It adds a lot to everybody’s psyche, I think, when he gets it going. Everbody else doesn’t feel like maybe they have to be the guy.”

After Snitker said that, Freeman’s gone 7-for-17 (.462) with three doubles and a homer through four July games.

The one surprising aspect of Freeman’s stats over his torrid 26-game stretch is that he’s still struck out more than twice as many times as he’s walked 26 strikeouts with 11 walks in 101 at-bats in that period. Some of that surely can be attributed to the fact that he’s not getting a lot of pitches to hit and ends up chasing bad ones sometimes, particularly with runners in scoring position, an area where this season he continues to perform far below his career standard.

“It is hard (to be patient),” he said, talking about how he’s gotten improved his overall  hitting so much in the past month. “When you’re struggling you want to get out of it as fast as you can. Sometimes you need to take that walk; that walk can lock you in to make sure you’re seeing the ball well. I don’t know what clicked it in a month ago, but something did, and it hasn’t un-clicked yet (laughs), so…. The whole thing has been pitch selection. Obviously I’ve been hitting those pitches, too.

“When I’d get those pitches early on it’d be, like, in a pitcher’s count and I’d foul it off instead of hitting it.

“The big key for me with (facing) lefties is leaving (alone) the two-seamer in, and make sure you stay with the plan and keep looking (for pitches) away, and if they throw a change-up I’ll still be able to hit it, or if they throw a slider I’ll still be able to hit it.”

Did we mention that Freeman has hit lefties better this season than in any previous season? Well, he has.

The left-handed hitting Freeman has batted a sizzling .328 (38-for-116) against lefties with a .403 OBP and .509 slugging percentage in 116 at-bats, compared to .270/.356/.520 in 196 at-bats vs. right-handers.

Eleven of his 14 homers this season have come against righties, but with three homers vs. lefties he’s on pace to approach his career best in that category, too (seven homers vs. lefties in 228 at-bats in 2012, the only season he had more than five homers vs. lefties).

Compare those lefty/righty splits to 2015, when Freeman hit just .219/.341/.316 vs. lefties and .298/.382/.530 vs. righties (17 of 18 homers came vs. righties). He also failed to make the All-Star team last season after making it twice in a row in 2013-2014.

Freeman’s career best average vs. lefties was .287 in 2013, when he hit career-best .319 overall with a .396 OBP and .501 slugging percentage, including .287/.367/.397 vs. lefties and a robust .334/.409/.549 vs. righties.

Again, he’s hitting .328 vs. lefties this season. Particularly noteworthy considering how much he struggled generally in the season’s first two months.

What’s been the key to his thriving against lefties?

“I feel like I’ve hit lefties all year,” he said Monday. Then he smiled and added, “Obviously the righties have been a little bit weird for me.”

Then he broke it down to such a degree that it becomes clear to just about anyone how seriously and how closely a hitter like Freeman works at this stuff, even if he sometimes tries to make it sound like his whole approach is simply put the front foot down and swing, which it certainly is not.

“The last month, against lefties I’ve been able to lay off that two-seamer (sinkerball) in and push them back out away,” he said. “When I was struggling I’d swing at pitcher’s pitches. I’d be swinging at ones a couple of inches outside because I was just trying to do a little too much. The last month I haven’t been swinging at them and I’ve been getting into hitter’s counts. A prime example was (Sunday) night, (Marlins lefty Adam) Conley in my first two at-bats was just trying to throw two-seamers in, in, in. I took them in both of the first two at-bats and pushed him back away for 2-0 counts. (Freeman singled, doubled and walked in three plate appearances against Conley.)

“I think that’s just the big key — if they were to hit that inside corner three times, tip your cap and go back to the dugout. That’s going to happen. But most of the time they can’t hit that spot three times in a row, and if I keep swinging at it they’ll keep going in there. I’ve been able to lay off of it, and I think that’s been a key for me is not swinging at the two-seamer from a lefty and pushing it back away.”

“But it’s hard. Because as a lefty, you see that pitch coming middle-in and you go for it, next thing you know it’s tailing down and in. You hit it off your foot or roll it over (for a grounder). It’s just been pitch selection for me the last month. I’ve been working really, really hard and trying to make sure  I stay with the plan and if it’s a lefty like last night all I was doing was looking away. And if he throws it in, don’t swing at it. It’s been working. I haven’t veered off yet. It’s just pitch selection has been my key for a month now.”

• Phillies resurgence: Just went it looked like the Phillies were in free-fall mode and coming back to the Braves in the standings, Philly has heated up again, almost inexplicably considering the stretch they were on prior to their current hot streak.

They hit an anemic .183 with nine homers and 30 runs in a 12-game stretch through June 20, but in 13 games since they’ve hit a majors-leading .321 with 18 homers and 78 runs.

Also, after posting a 7.01 ERA during a 1-13 stretch through June 22, Phillies pitchers have a 3.48 ERA in 11 games since then, including eight wins. They’ve won six of their past seven games including series wins at Arizona and home against Royals before beating the Braves 8-2 in Monday’s series opener, when Braves rookie Jose De La Cruz, in his second major league game, gave up six extra-base hits in a seven-run second inning.

•I’ll close with this Jamey Johnson cover version of this Keith Whitley classic.

“LONELY AT THE TOP” By Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson

I was pourin’ out my troubles
To a stranger in the bar
About the problems and the pressures
On a country music starHalf braggin’, half complainin’
Bout the money and the fame
And just how lonely life can be
When you’ve made yourself a nameI said would you like a drink
He said thanks, I’ll have a double
I’ve worked up a powerful thirst
Just listening to all your troubles
And while he makes that drink
I’ll smoke one if you got ’em
It might be lonely at the top,
But it’s a bitch at the bottom

I left a hundred on the table
and didn’t wait around for change
with my load a little lighter
and my thinking rearranged

That stranger made me realize
how thankful I should be
And if I forget I hope those words
he said I hope come back to me

I said would you like a drink
He said thanks, I’ll have a double
I’ve worked up a powerful thirst
just listening to all your troubles
And while he makes that drink
I’ll smoke one if you got ’em
It might be lonely at the top,
but it’s a bitch at the bottom

It might be lonely at the top,
but it’s a bitch at the bottom


View Comments 0